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How We Decided
  • 74 Models Considered
  • 34 Hours Spent
  • 2 Experts Interviewed
  • 214 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Shopping Guide for the Best Printers

    If you're looking for a top printer, you'll find a huge range of models offering every conceivable feature and extra. How do you decide which is best for you?

    The BestReviews team looked at hundreds of inkjet and laser printers during our research.

    When we buy something to test, we use our own funds to purchase the item. To ensure that our reviews remain subjective and trustworthy, we never accept free samples from manufacturers.

    And when we're done testing products, we donate them to charities and other non-profit groups that can use them.

    Our goal during the selection process for our product matrix, above, was to find five stand-out printers that meet our quality and performance standards while remaining affordable for the majority of home and small businesses owners.

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    Our five finalists will do just about everything, from rapid black and white printing to scanning, copying, automatic color duplexing, and outputting from a smartphone or tablet.

    We're happy to recommend any of them.

    So how did we come to these decisions? A full analysis follows.

    Considerations

    Considerations

    Output Statistics

    The BestReviews lab staff examined each printer’s output statistics: pages per minute, color quality, and so on.

    Considerations

    Features

    Few printers just print any more; multifunctional models abound. What’s more, the prices of these machines are now well within reach of the average home user. Are print-only machines worth the expense? Do these models save you money or grant a better performance? Our lab staff noted and tested the features offered by each printer on our shortlist.

    EXPERT TIP

    The longevity of your home-printed images depends, in large part, on the ink/paper combination you use.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    Considerations

    Connectivity Options

    Most printers can still plug into a computer, but WiFi is everywhere now, and an increasing number of machines print wirelessly from smartphones and tablets. During testing, we noted the offerings of each model on our shortlist.

    Considerations

    Price

    It's possible to buy a cheap printer for less than $50, but the faults of these bargain models frequently outweigh the savings. And the truth is, a decent machine could cost you just a little more than $50. Even at the top end of the pricing scale, a high-quality multifunctional printer is remarkably affordable.

    Read on to discover the price of each of our shortlist contenders. You can also check out our matrix, above, to discover this information.

    Should you buy a laser or an inkjet printer? Yes, the laser vs. inkjet question is a big one, but others issues also figure prominently. For example, should you get a color or monochrome printer? A single-purpose or an all-in-one with scanning and faxing capability?

    Color vs. Monochrome

    Little difference exists between the cost of a color printer and the cost of a black and white printer. So why not have the color option? There are several reasons, actually.

    The best monochrome printers are:

       •    Compact

       •    Fast

       •    Easy to use

    EXPERT TIP

    Always refer to your printer's manual for specific instructions on cleaning and maintenance of the machine.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Although a color printer may be more cumbersome and slightly more expensive than a black and white model, the benefit is undeniable: you get color prints.

    As such, some consumers find it prudent to buy a cheap monochrome printer for text printing and an all-in-one color printer for everything else.

    Notably, all of the monochrome models we looked at were laser printers, designed for rapid output of large amounts of text and/or black and white images. Even the very best inkjets struggle to produce text that's as sharp (particularly at sizes below 12 point), and when they do, they run much slower because they're on a “high resolution” setting.

    The best monochrome machines include print options that allow you to save toner.

    Single-Function Printer vs. Multifunctional Printer

    Should you buy a single- or multifunctional printer? In general, this is an easy question to answer. If you can find a quality color printer with fax, scanning, and copying capabilities for the same price as a printer without those functions, the decision is a no-brainer.

    However, some situations exist in which you might prefer a single-function printer. Consider the following:

    • If you want photo-realistic output of high quality, you almost certainly want a specialist machine that focuses solely on the task at hand.

    • A printer with a built-in scanner would probably serve the needs of most consumers, but if you require high-resolution scans for trade printing or graphic displays, a machine dedicated entirely to high-resolution prints could be your best bet.

    • Business owners might prefer a more robust single-function unit that can consistently handle their heavy output demands.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some modern printers can connect to every imaginable mobile device. As such, they cater to all kinds of users.

    Inkjet vs. Laser

    This is always going to be a difficult question to answer, and even the BestReviews lab testers had differing opinions.

    However, all agreed that your final choice should depend largely on what you intend to use the printer for.

    In the early days of home printers, the choice between inkjet and laser was rather straightforward. Back then, laser printers created images with superior detail, but the machines were prohibitively expensive.

    Inkjets were far more affordable, but the final product wasn’t nearly as sharp.

    EXPERT TIP

    The quality of the paper you use affects print quality, too. Cheap paper is more absorbent, so wet ink can blur. Inkjet photo paper can be costly, but the results are excellent.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Today's printers employ the same basic technologies, but much has changed.

    • Laser and inkjet printers share similar price tags. And although laser toner remains much more expensive, you get up to ten times as many pages from a cartridge.

    • Print resolution is no longer an issue. Even cheap inkjets render a decent output. The graphic quality of our inkjet finalists is well above average.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    An auto document feeder allows you to get substantial jobs going and come back to them when they're finished, rather than having to hand-feed them.

    Features to Consider

    Most inkjet and laser printers offer similar features. Almost all can communicate wirelessly with your smartphone or tablet. Many offer WiFi so you can share the printer with other users. And, as we've seen, scanning, copying, and faxing are common.

    Here are some notable “other” features you might be interested in —

    • Paper Tray Capacity: If you do a lot of printing, a large-capacity paper tray comes in handy.

    • Automatic Feeding: If you print lots of envelopes or cards, automatic feeding of multiple sizes is useful.

    • Automatic Duplexing: This feature is great for those who want to execute rapid double-sided printing.

    • Borderless Printing: This is great if you want to print lots of photos, but you should check the print sizes available before making a purchase.

    • Ink Refill Subscription Program: A program such as this could save you money, but we urge consumers to think about their usage patterns before choosing a printer with this feature. It’s not necessary for everyone.

    When considering the price of a printer, also consider the cost of ink or cartridges. Many printers are priced low, but their ink costs are sky high. Laser printers have a higher upfront cost, but many are cheaper when analyzed over their entire life cycle.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    A Note About Ink Quality

    Of course, you want your prints to last forever — especially if you use your printer to create copies of beloved family photos. But some inks fade over time. Here’s what you need to know about ink technology as it stands today:

    • Inkjet inks fall into two categories — dye-based and pigment-based. Dye-based inks are 100% liquid; the color is dissolved in water. Pigment-based inks have solid particles in the mix and consequently last longer.
    In case of a paper jam, hold the obstructing document with both hands and pull it out gently but firmly; do not yank it out as that might cause it to rip and leave debris behind.
    • Testing suggests that some images created by cheap replacement ink fade in as little as three months. This may be extreme, but it’s a known danger of buying remanufactured cartridges.

    • Ink purchased directly from the printer manufacturer may cost more, but the images rendered from it could last longer. The reason: this ink will probably be part pigment (the black) and part dye (the colors).

    • If you want your photo images to retain their richness for years, consider a specialist photo printer and the corresponding ink and paper. You'll pay more, but you’ll enjoy remarkable technology.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Printed images that are stored in direct sunlight will fade. To preserve your images, shield them from sun exposure.

    Products We Considered

    Products we considered

    Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer

    Though it has several close competitors, the best monochrome printer is the $64 Samsung Wireless Monochrome Printer. It's got a small footprint and, at just under nine pounds, it’s easy to move around.

    The claimed output of 21 pages per minute depends on image density, but it's certainly quick. What’s more, Near Field Communications (NFC) makes printing from smartphones and tablets a breeze.

    Admittedly, it’s a little disappointing that the Samsung only comes with a half-sized “sample” toner cartridge rather than a full-sized one. However, the model does offer several built-in toner-saving options.

    If you have to open your printer for any reason (maintenance, etc.), turn the power off, and try not to touch any hot fusers or the moving parts to be on the safe side.
    Products we considered

    Brother HL-3170CDW Digital Color Printer

    If you're looking for consistent quality, high volume, and trouble-free duplexing, the Brother Digital Color Printer is tough to beat. It's got all the connectivity options you'd expect from a modern business machine, and if you choose, you can set it up to automatically order more toner when levels get low.

    Of course, toner cost is always an issue, but that’s true of any laser printer. Overall, this $199 beast does exactly what it’s designed to do. Yes, it’s big and heavy, but so are its rivals.

    If you don't need all that power, though, the multifunctional Canon and HP Envy models are great alternatives for a much lower price.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Inkjet printers create images by squirting wet ink onto paper. As such, you can print the ink onto different fabrics, like burlap, for a fun DIY.

    Products We Considered

    HP Envy 4520 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer

    If you're looking for a cheap inkjet printer with all the functions of a machine that costs twice as much, the $99 HP Envy 4520 could be your ideal.

    At nine black and white pages per minute and six color pages per minute, it’s a bit slow, but this multifunctional unit also offers copying and scanning, borderless printing, and wireless communication. (For example, you can print photos from your smartphone.)

    What’s more, it’s Energy Star compliant!

    If your print demands are modest, the HP Envy is worth a close look.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    Pointers

    We wholeheartedly endorse all five of our chosen printers, but what it you’re still not sure which product is right for you? After all, your printing needs may differ from those of your neighbor.

    Keep these pointers in mind when making your final decision —

    If you need high quantities of monochrome/grayscale printing, choose a monochrome laser printer. This unit will offer you:

    • Fast printing
    • Sharp detail
    • High-volume capability
    DID YOU KNOW?

    The slight blurring inherent in an inkjet printer’s output is beneficial to photo printing. Why? The constantly variable tone enhances the photo’s overall quality. Many manufacturers tune nozzle performance for better results.

    If you need high quantities of business printing, choose a color laser printer. This unit will offer you:

    • Fast printing

    • Fine detail

    • Quality presentation (though not best for photos)

    • High-volume capability
    EXPERT TIP

    Although a color laser printer offers fine details and high quality, it’s not the best for photo printing.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    If you need general-purpose home or small business printer, choose a color inkjet model. This unit will offer you:

    • A lower initial investment
    • Cheaper ink
    • Good photo quality

    Although inkjet cartridges are cheaper than laser toner cartridges, they don’t tend to last as long.

    Staff
    BestReviews

    If you need large quantities of high-quality photo printing, choose a specialist color inkjet printer. This unit will offer you:

    • Exceptional visual quality
    • Prints that hold their color for decades
    A specialist color inkjet printer is not cheap, but it’s built with one purpose in mind: visual quality.

    Other Products We Considered

    We scrutinized a lot of printers before choosing our top five. Some of those that didn't make our shortlist came very close, and the following notes explain our reasoning.

    We usually shy away from cheap printers, and the HP DeskJet 1112 falls into that category. But although it's cheap, it isn't badly made. Print quality isn’t bad, either. The problems are two-fold. First, it's a USB printer without an included cable. Sure, you could buy a USB cable separately, but that’s a bit of a nuisance. Second, the DeskJet 1112’s ink cartridges are small, and color printing eats them up all too quickly.

    Another HP printer, the OfficeJet 4650, rates highly with lots of consumers as a great all-rounder. We can't fault its performance, but in our view, there are other contenders that simply offer better value and/or efficiency.

    The Canon MX492 is a low-cost printer with a remarkable feature set for the money. But this one feels flimsy. What’s more, the WiFi can be inconsistent, and like the DeskJet 1112, no USB cable is supplied.

    We were also initially intrigued by the Brother DCPL2540DW. In the end, however, we found that it just doesn’t offer the same value as its siblings. There's nothing wrong with it, but it lacks a fax function, can't do duplex scanning, and has difficulty printing longer documents.

    EXPERT TIP

    What should you do with your empty inkjet cartridges? You could have them refilled, or you could donate them to charity. Some charities collect empty cartridges and recycle them in exchange for cash.


    Matthew  | IT Professional, Product Manager

    Best of the Best

    Best of the Best


    Best of the Best

    HP OfficeJet Pro 8720 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer

    In such a competitive market, it's tough to pick a winner, but the best printer we've found is the $191 HP OfficeJet Pro 8750. In the ongoing battle between laser and inkjet, this machine offers the best of both worlds.

    For starters, it's fast. You can get up to 24 black and white pages per minute (37 in “draft” mode) and up to 20 pages of color. The paper tray holds 250 sheets, so you needn’t refill it every couple of minutes. Not only will it duplex print, it will also automatically scan or copy both sides. And with a 50-sheet document feeder, you have only to hit the start button and come back a bit later when the job is done.

    The HP OfficeJet offers every conceivable connectivity option, so it will print from any device. If you’re working directly with the machine, you’ll enjoy its color touchscreen. This machine has a fax facility, too.

    With all that going on, you'd expect the HP OfficeJet Pro to be something of a monster. It's no lightweight at 33 pounds, but its clever design (HP calls it “Print Forward”) keeps everything surprisingly compact.

    Several owners have been annoyed by the HP's “Instant Ink” subscription program. But while some people dislike it, this feature continues to grow in popularity; it’s difficult to avoid. Furthermore, many people find it downright convenient.

    There's always an argument for job-specific printers, and that's fine if you're heavily into producing plans, technical documents, or photography. But most of us want a relatively cheap, fast, reliable machine that will do just about anything. That's what you get with the HP OfficeJet Pro 8750, and that is why it earns our top honors.

    EXPERT TIP

    If your pages come out with white lines across the printed text, it’s time to clean the printer's head.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Best Bang for your Buck


    Best Bang for your Buck

    Canon Office and Business MX922 All-in-one Printer

    All of the printers in our product matrix are top machines, and identifying the Best Bang for Your Buck printer posed a bit of a challenge for our testers. In the end, however, the printer that offers the best value for your money is the Canon MX922.

    The Canon is a remarkable machine with a great reputation. It performs every task you might need, from scanning to copying to duplex printing. The Canon’s photo reproduction quality is particularly outstanding, but then, you might have expected that from a company that also produces bestselling cameras.

    This printer’s connectivity and compatibility are as good as anything out there; no matter what gadget you've got, there's a way to make it print using the Canon. Colors are particularly rich thanks to the printer’s five inks — a bonus feature that could also save you money. Setup is considered easy by most owners, and while it may not be the fastest printer in the world, owners register few complaints about its output once it’s started.

    Given its low price of just $79, it's not surprising that this is one of the most popular machines on the market. Of course, that fact lends itself to a few criticisms, but these are substantially outweighed by the number of positive comments and the number of owners who "absolutely love it." If you’re watching your budget and you seek a terrific home printer, this could very well be the best choice for you.

    You can use a small vacuum to clear out toner debris or dust from inside the printer, which can otherwise cause the machine to jam.

    Staff
    BestReviews
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      Branson
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    2 DIY Projects With Your Inkjet Printer

    DIY Project

    Printing on Burlap

    Materials you will need: burlap, cardstock, ruler, X-Acto knife, computer, inkjet printer

    1. Measure out your piece of burlap to 8.5" by 11". Use the X-Acto knife to cut it.
    2. Repeat with the card stock.
    3. Use the masking tape to affix the burlap to the card stock.
    4. Make sure your printer settings are set to Heavy Duty.
    5. Gently feed the burlap/card stock through the printer.

    Use this DIY to make customized burlap bags, wall decor and more!

    DIY Project

    Temporary Tattoos

    Materials you will need: tattoo paper, credit card, scissors, computer, inkjet printer

    1. Design your tattoos on your computer.
    2. Print them onto the tattoo paper.
    3. Lay the adhesive sheet on top and use a credit card to smooth.
    4. Cut out the tattoo with scissors.
    5. Place the tattoo on your arm and gently rub with a wet paper towel for 30 seconds.
    6. Slowly peel the tattoo off.
    ×

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    At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.

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